The Ultimate Guide To Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island, one of the most sought-after island destinations of the midwestern US!
Mackinac Island, an island retreat located in Lake Huron, Michigan, featuring spectacular lake vistas, beaches, rock formations, historical sites, and gardens, is a world of beautiful nature!
Mackinac Island, located right at the junction of Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas on Lake Huron, is a small island measuring approximately 8 miles long and covering around 4 square miles of land area, is one of the prime tourist destinations in Michigan. Mackinac Island, primarily known for its breathtaking lake vistas, natural wonders, historical sites, various architectural styles, and of course, delicious fudge, is also a designated National Historic Landmark, and the majority of the island is protected and preserved as Mackinac Island State Park!
Mackinac Island was once considered a sacred place by the Native Americans who used it as a gathering place and a burial site for their chiefs and named it “Mitchimakinak,” which literally means “The Big Turtle.” Upon realizing the island’s strategic importance, a transportation corridor in the Upper Great Lakes, the British built Fort Mackinac & Fort George and deployed their forces to protect their settlement on the island. Only after two battles and the Treaty of Ghent, Mackinac Island became part of the US, and Fort George was renamed to Fort Holmes, after Major Holmes. Once the war was over, Mackinac Island soon thrived as a popular tourist destination and continues to lure vacationists from all over the globe!
Motorized vehicles are prohibited on Mackinac Island, and the only way to explore the island is by using horse-drawn carriages, on foot, or on bicycles!
Undeniably, the major fun and attractions are on the island, but the ferry ride to Mackinac Island and the gorgeous vistas along the ride are equally fascinating! Mackinac Island doesn’t allow cars or any self-propelled vehicles on the island for safety reasons, which isn’t really a big problem, as the island is quite small, and it offers horse-drawn carriages and bike rentals to help visitors navigate the island! Mackinac Island, along with its natural beauty and several fascinating attractions, also features several great lodging and dining options, making it an excellent choice for a day trip, weekend getaway, or extended vacation!
Here is my ultimate guide to Mackinac Island, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, Mackinac Island attractions map, things to do on the island, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Mackinac Island!
Planning Your Trip To Mackinac Island
Visiting outside the winter months, flying into Pellston or Sault Ste. Marie regional airports, staying overnight on the island, and seeing a few other nearby attractions in the Upper Peninsula is the best way to get the most out of your trip to Mackinac Island!
Best Time To Visit Mackinac Island: Technically, Mackinac Island is open year-round, but due to the brutal winters in Michigan, especially in the northern section of the state, most of the facilities are closed during the snowy winter months. Unquestionably, summer with warm weather is the best time to explore Mackinac island! However, summer is also the busiest season in Mackinac Island, packed with tourists, and advance lodging and ferry reservations are a must if you’re traveling during the summer months, especially during weekends. If you don’t mind slightly cold weather, visiting during late spring and fall is a great way to beat the crowd at Mackinac Island.
Time Required In Mackinac Island: Mackinac Island is pretty small, and with the availability of guided horse-drawn carriage tours, you could easily explore all the major highlights of the island in just one day! However, Mackinac Island and other attractions in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are remotely located and require a good amount of driving, so it’s a good idea to take a break from driving and spending a night on the island or on the mainland in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is home to several other attractions located not very far from Mackinac Island, including Tahquamenon Falls, Kitch-iti-kipi, Pictured Rocks, and Copper Harbor, and I highly recommend adding a day or two to your Mackinac Island itinerary and visiting a few of these attractions when visiting Mackinac Island.
Getting To Mackinac Island: Mackinac Island is pretty far from all major international airports making regional and domestic airports the best option to get to Mackinac Island. Unfortunately, there are no direct train and bus services to Mackinac Island, and the closest train / bus stops are located pretty far south of Mackinac Island in southwest Michigan.
- Flight: Pellston Regional Airport of Emmet County (PLN), Pellston, Michigan, about 15 miles from Mackinaw City and Chippewa County International Airport (CIU), Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, around 42 miles from Mackinaw City, are the closest regional airports to Mackinac Island with connecting flights from Detroit. Many people also fly into Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), Detroit, Michigan, approximately 295 miles from Mackinac Island, and then drive to Mackinaw City.
- Train: There are no direct train services to Mackinac Island, and the closest major Amtrak station to Mackinaw City is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, about 240 miles from Mackinac Island.
- Bus: Unfortunately, Greyhound doesn’t offer any direct bus service to Mackinac Island, and the closest major Greyhound bus stop is located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, around 290 miles from Mackinaw City.
- Ferry To Mackinac Island: Star Line Ferry and Sheplers Ferry offers ferry services to Mackinac Island from the mainland cities of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.
Transportation In Mackinac Island: Mackinac Island doesn’t allow cars or any self-propelled vehicles on the island for safety reasons, and the only way to navigate the island is by using horse-drawn carriages or bikes. You could either bring your own bikes to Mackinac Island or rent from one of the several bike rentals located in Downtown Mackinac Island after disembarking from the ferry.
Guided Tours In Mackinac Island: Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers well-narrated and well-paced horse-drawn carriage tours of the island, featuring all major attractions on Mackinac Island, and is the best way to explore the island if you’re pressed for time. The tickets for the carriage tours can be purchased in person from the ticket office located near the ferry dock on the island or reserved online, along with your ferry tickets on Star Line Ferry and Sheplers Ferry. The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours company also offers private tours and horse-drawn taxi services, which can be reserved by calling the dispatch office at (906) 847-3323.
Lodging & Dining In Mackinac Island: There are quite a few resorts and bread and breakfasts on the island and on the mainland in the cities of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. However, being a popular tourist destination, advance lodging reservations are recommended, especially during the summer months. Mackinac Island also features many restaurants ranging from fine dining to casual eateries located in Downtown Mackinac Island, serving various cuisines. I have reviewed the lodging and dining options in Mackinac Island in detail in the later section of this post.
Other Attractions Near Mackinac Island: Michigan is truly blessed with nature, especially the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is home to several other attractions besides Mackinac Island, including Tahquamenon Falls, in Paradise, about 80 miles north of Mackinac Island, Kitch-iti-kipi in Manistique, 105 miles northwest of Mackinac Island, Pictured Rocks around 115 miles north of Mackinac Island, and Copper Harbor, located approximately 310 miles further up north from Mackinac Island. It’s a lot to see and do on a single trip, but every place is unique and captivating, and I highly recommend visiting at least a few of them on your trip to Mackinac Island.
Things To Do In Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island Attractions Map
Mackinac Island, measuring approximately 8 miles long and covering around 4 square miles of land area, is a pretty small island and can be explored on foot or on a bike. However, if it’s your first visit to Mackinac Island, I highly recommend using the guided horse-drawn carriage tours offered by Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. These carriage tours last about an hour and a half and provide an overview of the entire island. Once you get acquainted with the area and have more time to spend on the island, you can rent a bike or walk to a spot you liked on your tour!
Here’re the must-see places in Mackinac Island, starting at Downtown Mackinac Island!
Downtown Mackinac Island
Downtown Mackinac Island
Downtown Mackinac Island, lined with shops, charming victorian style buildings, restaurants, and of course the popular Mackinac Island fudge shops, is the first place you would see upon disembarking from the ferry. This is also where you would embark on your horse-drawn carriage tours of the island or rent bikes to explore the island.
Grand Hotel, half a mile west of the downtown, is a historic hotel and an iconic landmark of Mackinac Island, hosting guests since 1887. The sprawling Queen Anne-style resort features luxury rooms, elegant dining rooms, & the world-famous porch overlooking the bay! Whether or not you’re staying in Grand Hotel, you can tour the hotel, enjoy afternoon tea, or have dinner!
Mackinac Island Churches
Mackinac Island Churches
Mackinac Island is home to four historic churches built several hundred years ago and still used for prayers & ceremonies. (1) Little Stone Church, 0.3-mile west of downtown Mackinac Island, (2) Historic Mission Church, 0.6-mile east of downtown, (3) Trinity Episcopal Church, 0.2-mile northeast of downtown & (4) Sainte Anne’s Catholic Church, 0.4-mile east of downtown.
Fort Mackinac, 0.6-mile northwest of the downtown, is a historical fort built by the British which served as a military outpost and home for British & American soldiers and their families. Now Fort Mackinac & its neighboring Fort Holmes offer tours featuring several historic structures & exhibits explaining various military operations conducted within the Fort.
Marquette Park, located just a short walk east of downtown Mackinac Island, is a beautiful garden at the foot of Fort Mackinac featuring spectacular harbor views and is a popular spot for family gatherings and picnics. The Park also features a statue of Father Jacques Marquette, a French priest, and a playground popular with families with kids.
Arch Rock, about 1.3 miles east of downtown Mackinac Island, is an iconic landmark and the most famous rock formation on the island featuring a fifty feet wide arch with the bay in the background! Mackinac Island is also home to another popular rock formation, Sugar Loaf, which is just 0.7-mile northwest of Arch Rock.
Skull Cave, located about a mile north of downtown Mackinac Island, is a small shallow cave once used as a sacred burial ground by the Native Americans. Per the legends, Alexander Henry, an English fur trader, fled the Pontiac’s War by hiding in the Skull Cave at night, but when he woke up in the morning, he found himself lying on a heap of human bones.
Mackinac Island Museums
Mackinac Island Museums
Mackinac Island, besides the natural scenic beauty, is also home to several museums – Grand Hotel Horse Stable/Carriage Museum, Richard & Jane Manoogian Art Museum, Surrey Hills Carriage Museums, Horse in History Museum, Stuart House Museum, American Fur Company Store & Museum, and Wings of Mackinac, a butterfly conservatory.
Lodging & Dining In Mackinac Island
Unquestionably, staying on the island is a one-of-a-kind experience, but you could also stay on the mainland in the cities of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace!
Hotels In Mackinac Island: There are quite a few resorts and bread and breakfasts on the island, but being a popular tourist destination, summers are extremely busy in Mackinac Island, and if lodging reservations are made in advance, it’s pretty challenging to get a hotel room on the island. Unquestionably, my first lodging choice is staying on the island, but if you’re unable to get a room during your stay, you could stay on the mainland in the towns of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, which are the ferry ports for Mackinac Island. Here’re my top picks for hotels near Mackinac Island, on the island as well on the mainland –
- Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
- Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island
- Island House Hotel, Mackinac Island
- Baymont by Wyndham, Mackinaw City
- Holiday Inn Express, St. Ignace
Restaurants In Mackinac Island: There are several dining choices in downtown Mackinac Island ranging from fine dining to casual waterfront eateries, and with so many options, it’s challenging to pick one over the other, but here are a few iconic food and great eateries you may try on your trip to Mackinac Island – Grand Luncheon Experience at Grand Hotel, Pink Pony and The Chuckwagon for American fare, Island Slice Pizzeria for pasta, salads and pizzas, Mama Larosa’s pizza buffet and salad bar at Murray Hotel, and of course Mackinac Island fudge at one of the many fudge shops in downtown Mackinac Island!
Other Michigan Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Mackinac Island, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Mackinac Island. You can find other Michigan attractions in my Michigan Travel Guide.
Happy feeding your soul!
Shop Travel Essentials
This is not a sponsored post, and I recommend products based on my experience. This may contain affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase using my link at no extra cost to you. More Travel Accessories.